Intel’s Sapphire Rapids ‘upgrades’ are a bad idea

How to make customers hate you

Intel LogoIntel is offering ‘upgradeable’ features on their new Xeons, an idiotic move that will hurt the company. SemiAccurate can’t understand how something this stupid and self-destructive was allowed to go through.

We first heard about the plans for upgradable Xeons, and more in future quarters, last summer but were asked not to post it publicly. Since others have outed the scheme, we have been released to talk about it so that is what we will do. In detail. But first a little editorializing.

Author’s Note: This article was written in February but we decided to not publish it. Recent circumstances changed our mind.

Intel’s marketing is the single most detrimental thing the company is fighting at the moment, the problems it creates makes the threat of AMD pale in comparison. The company could get away with a lot when there were a defacto monopoly for much of the last decade because the line, “what else are you going to buy?” was quite valid. This lead to flat out undisguised abuses of the customer base which was deemed a great success as measured by the internal bonus structure. Hatred of the company grew to unprecedented levels.

You might recall the pricing of Cascade lake which took Xeons from Broadwell’s $4000 to nearly $20,000. The most galling bits were the abusive memory tax, but the SKU proliferation was also egregious. On Ice Lake-SP, Intel told OEMs that they would price MK-TME ‘security’ by the key against AMD’s faster, cheaper, and more functional CPUs which had SME/SEV included for free. This provoked such massive backlash that Intel had to pull the scheme. The fact that it wasn’t able to be debugged in time for launch and was pulled is an afterthought, the pitch, and the damage, had been done.

This time around Intel can’t extort for memory, AMD Epycs have a higher capacity, are faster, and cheaper, can’t extort for MK-TME keys, it still doesn’t work in Sapphire Rapids, so they turned to SGX. You know that technology that no one uses and no one wants because you have to recode your apps to work with it, not just recompile. The idea this time was to artificially fuse off SGX capacity and sell it back to customers by size. Those that had rewritten their apps for SGX were trapped so opportunities to milk abounded. Customer enmity be damned, bonuses were on the offing!

Needless to say this pitch not only pissed off all the key customers but it also backfired pretty badly once again. Intel marketing doesn’t seem to understand that AMD Epycs are faster, cheaper, and better in just about every way. Customer have a choice and since AMD is entirely production bound at this point, they are speaking with their wallets. That enmity is coming back to bite Intel hard right now but the digging continues.

What is Intel doing on Sapphire Rapids, other than finding novel ways to drive more customers away? They are making field upgradable CPUs for an as yet undisclosed fee. Since these codes will likely come from Intel itself rather than the OEMs that sell the systems, it is high margin profits. If you come from a financial background you might see the subtle problem that it cuts OEMs out of the picture and lowers their profits and margins. So this time around Intel is hell bent on pissing off OEMs and VARs too. When you have the knack, flaunt it!

This plan is both self-destructive and abjectly stupid. We have gone through the self-destructive part above, albeit with only a few cherry-picked examples, so why do we say it is abjectly stupid? Other than the obvious part, the ‘upgrades’ Intel is offering on Sapphire Rapids are things that, well, no sane deployment can utilize. Sure on paper you can get advantages but once a system is purchased and deployed, SemiAccurate can’t think of a scenario that these ‘upgrades’ will benefit the purchaser. Do note that this is regardless of the likely abusive pricing, it just doesn’t make sense on the surface.

So what are they actually offering?

Note: The following is for professional and student level subscribers.

Disclosures: Charlie Demerjian and Stone Arch Networking Services, Inc. have no consulting relationships, investment relationships, or hold any investment positions with any of the companies mentioned in this report.

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Charlie Demerjian

Roving engine of chaos and snide remarks at SemiAccurate
Charlie Demerjian is the founder of Stone Arch Networking Services and is a technology news site; addressing hardware design, software selection, customization, securing and maintenance, with over one million views per month. He is a technologist and analyst specializing in semiconductors, system and network architecture. As head writer of, he regularly advises writers, analysts, and industry executives on technical matters and long lead industry trends. Charlie is also available through Guidepoint and Mosaic. FullyAccurate